Scam Alert: You don’t have to pay to learn about VA benefits
By Dale Dixon - Idaho Statesman Published: 01/27/11
Better Business Bureau
U.S. veterans command so much respect, it’s hard to believe someone would single out and take advantage of an elderly person who served our country. It’s happening.
A friend recently shared the story of an 85-year-old woman who lives in a Boise-area assisted living facility. The woman paid $2,000 to an insurance agent who promised to help her understand her VA benefits. Fortunately, the woman was refunded all but $500 after her friend discovered what was happening and stepped in to help.
In researching the story, I spoke to a VA representative who is working with a family who paid $800 through an online program promising to help connect people to their VA benefits.
While it’s probably not illegal (we’ll dive into these muddy waters below), the above cases are unethical considering the woman and family could have learned about and received help for free.
“Helping a veteran understand their benefits is a service we’re happy to do,” said David Brasuell, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services. “My service officers go out to assisted living facilities, set up appointments and brief residents and social workers on VA benefits all the time.” They also work with people one-on-one. All it takes is a phone call.
Brasuell says he bristles when he hears about these cases and sees advertisements for attorneys and marketing firms offering to help seniors understand VA benefits for a fee. He says: “Some attorney’s and insurance people say, ‘You may qualify for benefits, and I can help you wade through the bureaucracy.’ Well, our people have the most up-to-date training and offer the assistance for free.” Brasuell points out that state service officers are trained and accredited by the VA to assist veterans with claims.
According to the VA, it’s illegal to charge a person to help them apply for VA benefits. That leaves the door open to charging a veteran or widow under the auspices of an office visit or estate planning.
The idea of charging people to find something that is readily available for free is a mini-cottage industry. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.
Folks at the VA have another reminder for those considering the use of outside help in applying for benefits: People who are approved for VA pensions have to complete and submit yearly updates. If they don’t complete the yearly updates, their pension will be terminated.
If you are a veteran or know someone who is, visit the Idaho State Office of Veteran’s Advocacy, co-located in the Federal VA Regional Office, 444 Fort St. Service officers are also stationed at veterans facilities throughout Idaho. Call 577-2300 to set up an appointment with a service office to file a claim or learn about benefits.
Dale Dixon is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau, a not-for-profit organization serving Southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon.
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